“I should have died.”
The words were hoarse and rough, like that desert he had breathed for most of a year. Over there …
“Don’t say that. Please, don’t say that.” Carrie held him tighter. “What about us?”
“It’s not that,” Jon said. “But sometimes there is a feeling of certainty … when it is your time. In Iraq, when we were being evacuated after our chopper was shot down, some of the guys from my squad were still … breathing. The medics talked like they could save them. But my pals … they just looked at me like it was all over. Somehow they knew they would not make it.”
“I knew that that time would not be it.”
“Why? How? How did you know?”
He shook his head. “Can’t explain it. At first, you are frightened, sure. And your body acts its best not to get hit. That’s instinct. But a part of you is just … in another place. And you know that this time you will not die.”
“It could be imagination … something your mind does to protect you.” She let him go, gently. She was searching for some kind of conclusion.
The dishes were still out in the kitchen. The kids were on their way home. Life pushed its way back towards them.
But Jon shook his head again. Like all of that ‘life’ was one enormous experience you could never be sure of. “Maybe you are right. But the other day – when I was drowning – then I felt for certain I was a goner. In a way that I had never felt in Iraq. And then …”
“Then you saw the boy.”
2 days earlier …
There had been rain all night, a defiant remnant of Hurricane Rosa. Jon had driven through it on the first part of his watch, and the morning sky had been like a whipped up ocean. As if the storm had to punish someone before it finally died out.
It was always an event when they got weather like this in Arizona because everything was dry and seared most of the year. But not that morning. It had been useless driving more until it was all over. So Jon had pulled over for some coffee at his favorite diner in Gila Bend.
There had been ample time to drink and chat but mostly just sit and watch the colossal shower outside coming down hard on the small desert town.
And wonder if he would do the same thing in 10 years’ time.
When the rain finally receded enough, he got back in the patrol car and headed out Pima towards Interstate 8, ignoring several small lakes now pooling on the road. He sped up and slashed through them with water spraying to all sides. Just like all the other drivers.
It was still overcast, but he had a feeling it would clear any moment.
Jon was about to turn on the radio to hear how bad Phoenix was hit when he crossed Sand Tank Wash.
Usually a long empty scar in the landscape of gravel and dusty sand, Sand Tank Wash was just that – an invisible creek with no water. It didn’t exist until it rained.
Now the Wash had emerged from non-existence with a vengeance. Jon could hear the roar of the water before he could see it.
From the road, about a hundred yards before he reached the bridge crossing, he could also see thin trees and bushes alongside the wash quivering, but not because of the wind, which was long dead. The torrent of water came down from the mountains with such force that it pulled out enormous chunks of dirt and gravel from the edges of the creek.
Something else was too close to an edge.
Jon hit the brakes right in a big pool of water, and it looked like the car temporarily exploded in raindrops.
Then down with the window. “Hey, lady – get away from there!”
The bridge over the creek had a ‘railing’ only 3 foot high. And somebody was leaning over it.
It was a woman who looked like she was throwing up down into the flood below. Or … was she trying to jump down into it and had decided against it at the last minute?
Jon got out and ran across the road, barely pausing to switch on the patrol car lights. The woman stood upright at the sound of Jon’s voice. She was twenty-something and frantic with fear.
“My son is down there!”
Jon hurried to the railing. “Where? Where?!”
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